To the Editor:
Climate change has been and continues to be a threat to our entire planet, whether acknowledged or not. Since it affects every single living being on our Earth, it is, and should be recognized as, the biggest threat to the world. However, it is not typically discussed or recognized as such, especially in political discussions. Efforts to combat the crisis need to be made quicker and more intense if we want to fight the damaging consequences. Nevertheless, the first step to solving a problem is identifying it and accepting the reality of the situation.
There are not many examples of politicians that are willingly and intentionally bringing the climate into their discussions, as the issue is still, for some reason, divisive. In the first Democratic debate of the 2016 presidential election, though, the candidates were asked: “what is our greatest national security threat?” While a majority of the candidates mentioned things like foreign countries or nuclear weapons, Bernie Sanders simply stated that it is climate change. This dedication to the cause of climate change has not changed since last election…in this current election season, Bernie is still dedicated. He still urges a prompt and aggressive plan to fight the consequences of “our common enemy, which is climate change.” His plan stresses the urgency of our situation, and he plans to spend a lot of time dealing with the fossil fuel industry, as well as to ban fracking and set a deadline for the year 2030 to switch to renewable energy. While the plan is certainly ambitious and supported by scientists, it is definitely doable and within our reach. Unfortunately, the reason that these changes have not yet taken place is largely because of the prioritization of economic interests.
Many institutions, including campuses and other organizations and funds, invest billions of dollars into funds to help generate income so that they can sustain their businesses. However, many of these investments rely on fossil fuel companies, which encourages the use of dirty energy rather than furthering the effort to use clean and renewable energy sources. Since so much money is invested in these companies, a movement has been started to urge people and businesses to engage in fossil fuel divestment. Divestment can be defined as “getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous,” and it is being pushed for investments made with fossil fuel companies. These investments are common because, obviously, they often make investors a lot of money, but the divestment campaign encourages the public to see past the short term profits of these investments and instead put this money into more sustainable companies. There have been many successful divestment campaigns in the past, including tobacco advertising and South African apartheid. In South Africa, people divested from companies operating in the country, which pushed the government into ending the era of apartheid and beginning a new era of democracy. Looking at the other successful divestment campaigns that effectively caused a change, the supporters of fossil fuel divestment are hopeful that removing investments from these companies will help slow the progress of climate change.
It is obvious why many people in the business world are against the idea of divestment, especially those with connections to the fossil fuel industry, but essentially, divesting from fossil fuel companies will quicken the removal of fossil fuels as sources of energy and the process of replacing them with renewable energy sources. The divestment movement is already making an impact on the big businesses behind fossil fuels. As early as 2016, “assets worth well over $6 trillion” had already been divested, and even more has been divested in the years since then. Though the companies being divested from are extremely large, these trillions of dollars did not go unnoticed, providing more evidence that divestment has been and continues to be an effective strategy to promote change. In Shell’s 2017 annual report, they acknowledged that “greenhouse gas emission regulation, fossil fuel divestment, and legal challenges” were all serious threats to their company. This was a monumental moment for supporters of the divestment movement, but the campaign for divestment continues to be strong today.
Sadly, fossil fuel divestment is not a solution itself, and there are those people who recognize this… Bill Gates being one of them. Bill Gates has even “branded fossil fuel divestment ‘a false solution.’” Bill Gates and many other critics of the viability of fossil fuel divestment argue that other action is needed if we want successful action to prevent the worsening of the climate crisis. This is definitely true, but as Tim Ratcliffe (a campaigner at 350.org) points out, “no one claims that divestment alone will solve the climate crisis, but it’s also clear that we won’t get anywhere unless we weaken the political power of the fossil fuel industry.” Weakening the extreme power that these ridiculously wealthy companies hold is essential if we want any political change to occur, and it can be done even on an individual level.
Despite the divestment campaign being a strong initiative that is pushed for on more of an individual level, CEOs of companies undeniably hold more power than individuals and small businesses, and some are beginning to take a more sustainable approach to doing business as well. Realizing that more and more consumers are looking to support companies that work to protect the environment rather than harm it, executives of businesses are working to keep consumers involved with their companies. Among these executives is Lawrence D. Fink, the founder of BlackRock — the largest and arguably the most powerful asset management company. In the episode of “The Daily” podcast titled “Can Corporations Stop Climate Change?,” Michael Barbaro and Andrew Ross Sorkin discuss a letter written by Lawrence Fink. Fink writes a letter once a year to the executives of some of the largest businesses around the world, and each year, the content of the letter is taken to heart by these executives and is able to cause large changes depending on what is said. In the letter written this year, Lawrence Fink wrote about shifting toward corporate policies that focus on the climate. Soon after, as I am sure you were able to guess, the executives that received that letter made an effort to follow his advice.
Not only is the divestment initiative effective in persuading companies to “go green,” but powerful and wealthy figures involved in business are easily capable of catalyzing the effort to protect our climate using only their words. While the divestment campaign has without a doubt made a large impact in the effort to switch to renewable energy sources, Fink (one single executive) was able to make a similar impact simply by writing a letter. There is only one logical reason to explain why the people who received his letter followed his advice so intently: because the executives believed that it would help their companies increase profits in the long run. Every business owner does what they do to earn a profit, but it is possible and reasonable to do the right thing for our world while also earning a larger profit in the long run.
It would be completely unreasonable to assume that the free market is not connected to the climate crisis. The two are heavily related, and each impacts the other. One thing is certain, though, and Bernie Sanders is aware of it: “their short term profits are not more important than the future of this planet!” Working together, and putting short term economic interests aside (which is necessary for the well-being of our planet), preventing irreparable damage from being done is possible if we act now. Politicians like Bernie Sanders who acknowledge and are willing to support the fight against climate change are essential, and ambitious plans that use information from scientists (such as his) must be followed immediately. With increased acknowledgment in the political scene, increased participation in the divestment campaign, and increased shifts towards climate-focused corporate policies by businesses, the negative impacts of the climate crisis can be lessened, and increased action will be taken to switch to renewable energy sources.
Caitlyn Colabraro, Age 17, Chatham High School